Updated on January 9th 2024
In April 2020, I Can for Kids (iCAN) embraced the daunting challenge of inspiring a major shift in the way charities and communities understand and tackle childhood food insecurity in Calgary. The global COVID-19 pandemic forced us to approach an age-old problem in a new way. Due to warehouse closures and food supply chain disruptions, we could no longer assemble and distribute free food packs to hungry kids during the summer months.
Thankfully, governments, donors, and public agencies embraced our innovative and radical solution. While most food provision programs had to suspend operations, iCAN was able to implement an alternative and evidence-based response overnight due to our nimble and well-established infrastructure with a solid network of agency partners.
Our pioneering shift
We initiated a bold change to our small but mighty program by switching from food provision to grocery gift cards as our sole vehicle of support. We then joined forces with the University of Calgary (U of C) to investigate the impact of this decision. The results opened our eyes to better ways of providing the support food-insecure families truly want and need.
Our transition has led to a more efficient and effective use of our donors’ support for the 1 in 4 children in our city who are often anxious about their next meal because they live in food-insecure homes. How? Here are the main reasons:
- eminent researchers recommend income-based policies and interventions because food programs will never address financial hardship as the primary cause of food insecurity
- food charities have spent 40 years trying to relieve ‘hunger’ when the bigger issue is the range of psychological, health, and social harms caused by food insecurity and poverty
- the efficiency and dignity of our program helps transform longstanding societal beliefs on how to best support food-insecure populations
Validation for our innovative response
The response to our new approach has remained extremely positive. During research interviews, 100% of the study participants expressed a strong preference for our grocery gift cards compared to our former food program and all other food programs. Our annual evaluations and recipient interviews also continue to show the many benefits and advantages of our gift card model for food-insecure families of all cultural backgrounds.
Our program acts as a bridge away from food provision and towards income policy. Most importantly, our approach leads to a more dignified response to support children, households, and populations who face food insecurity. A long-time volunteer recently sent us a note to champion the revolutionary nature of our changeover:
“As a concerned community member, I have been very impressed by this gift card program. The cards help families not only access food, but also serve as a reminder that they are not forgotten and that they are viewed as valuable members of our community.”
Our next step is to expand our program until broader poverty reduction strategies and policies take full effect. This requires ongoing support from grants, fundraisers, individual and corporate donors, and champions. To join iCAN’s growing list of supporters, check out the ways you can get involved or donate.
To learn more about I Can for Kids and our unique approach to childhood food insecurity, visit www.icanforkids.ca
About Donald Barker
Donald has worked as a registered dietitian for more than 25 years. He also has a professional background in communications and has long advocated for populations who face adverse, unjust, or systemic barriers that lead to higher rates of poor social, mental, emotional, and physical health outcomes. Donald currently volunteers as an Advisor with iCAN to support our transition towards evidence-based approaches that help improve the well-being of children in Calgary who live in low-income and food-insecure households. You can learn more about Donald at www.synthesist.pro
About I Can for Kids Foundation
I Can for Kids works closely with multiple agency partners to target and distribute grocery gift cards to food-insecure families who are most in need. The iCAN grocery gift card program is a more dignified and inclusive approach to dealing with food insecurity, allowing families to shop where everyone else shops and to choose foods that are appropriate for their health and cultural needs. Last year, iCAN supported more than 34,000 children across Calgary.
For more information and media inquiries, please contact iCAN Executive Director, Bobbi Turko at email@example.com.